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Are Choice Scholarships Programs Constitutional?

The strongest critics of choice scholarship programs claim that if dollars are used for religiously affiliated schools then they violate the First Amendment (establishment of religion). The First Amendment provides freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Choice scholarship programs let parents choose where to direct their children’s education funds. The state is not imposing religion upon its citizens (which was a concern of the Founding Fathers), nor does the choice of religious education substantiate federal funding or religious institutions. As Clint Bolick, Director of the Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation at the Goldwater Institute observes: all credible contemporary school choice proposals are constitutional.

[Contemporary school choice programs] do not propose subsidizing religious schools, but merely include such schools within the range of educational options made available to a neutrally defined category of beneficiaries (usually economically disadvantaged families). No public funds are transmitted to religious schools except by the independent decisions of third parties. As the U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has affirmed, such “attenuated financial benefit[s], ultimately controlled by the private choices of individual[s]”…are simply not within the contemplation of the Establishment Clause’s broad prohibition.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Cleveland Ohio school choice program.